EDITOR'S CHAIR: Whatever happened to the Big Society?
ONCE upon a time there was a prime minister who had a big idea. And he called his big idea the Big Society.
Those who supported the PM - and for the sake of argument let's call him Dave - nodded sagely at their leader's Big Idea because, they said, we're all in it together.
But his enemies mocked Dave, saying his Big Idea was a Big Fib. They said the Big Society was just a way of making taxpayers do the things they had already paid for.
And the arguments went on for a bit. And nobody really knew what the Big Society was anyway. And then everyone forgot about it. Even Dave.
OK, back to the real world.
The Big Society was indeed David Cameron's big idea in the run-up to the 2010 general election and in the first period of the coalition government he heads.
But when was the last time you heard anyone in government mention the words Big Society?
It is almost as if everyone who was once so keen on the idea now wants to pretend it never happened.
The idea of a Big Society, in which people are more community-minded, in which they look after themselves and look out for others, in which people don't just look to big government to provide solutions to problems is no bad thing.
But it appears to have gone the way of so many big ideas because the day-to-day job of running a country gets in the way, and because there is a huge question mark over whether the general public actually buys into the concept.
A story from the Argus this week highlights the second point.
Newport Round Table- which has been fundraising and staging the city's annual fireworks display for decades - is folding after more than 80 years because it cannot recruit new members.
Organisations like the Round Table and Rotary are, to my mind, perfect examples of what the Big Society should be about.
Groups of ordinary people banding together to aid those within their communities and further afield who need a helping hand.
Yet Newport Round Table, which has been surviving with just two members in recent years, is calling it a day because - according to its chairman Paul Thomas - "people aren't joining societies in the numbers they once did".
If Mr Thomas is right then the prime minister's Big Society was doomed from the start.
If there is no desire in 21st century Britain for the traditional ways of gathering together and helping to change things for the better then are we now just a nation of true Thatcher's children, only interested in ourselves?
In my view, what has really happened is that people are not joining organisations to bring about change. Instead, they are banding together in a more haphazard way when and if issues arise in their communities.
So we are seeing ever-increasing micro-groups being set up to campaign, or protest, or fund-raise on specific issues.
And these groups only last as long as it takes to achieve their aims.
So the community spirit and concern for others that might well be the hallmarks of the Big Society are alive and well.
But they are displayed on a smaller and less regimented way than they were traditionally.
That may be bad news for organisations like the Round Table (thought it should be remembered there are plenty of traditional organisations that continue to thrive) but it also rather puts a spanner in Mr Cameron's big idea.
People still want to do their bit. But they want to do it on their own terms rather than in response to government policy.
Perhaps the silence surrounding the Big Society concept shows Mr Cameron - to paraphrase the prime minister on another subject - finally 'gets it'.
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